Introductory Note:

In my quest to locate Spiritual Writers of the African American tradition, Dr. Virgil Wood (comrade and scholar of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) introduced me to the writings of Dr. Howard Thurman. Howard Thurman was Dean Emeritus of Marsh Chapel, Boston University, Honorary Canon of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York City, and Founder of Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, the first interracial, interdenominational church in the United States. Howard Thurman was a spiritual friend to Martin Luther King Jr., and he was considered a “Social Mystic.” (Dr. Alton Pollard has defined social mysticism as “an activist form of mysticism, compelled by the dictates of spiritual experience, that defies social conventions and engenders social change.”)

Dr. Thurman’s writing, published by Harper Row in 1961, speaks as if written just yesterday. Originally written as a meditation for the weekly Bulletin of Marsh Chapel, here he speaks on peace.

Juanita Campbell Rasmus

In the Foreword to his book The Inward Journey, Dr. Thurman writes:

There are not many windows in these meditations; they are as the title indicates, an Inward Journey. It may be that if there were more illustrations, the meaning could be more quickly grasped. The choice here is deliberate. It is my hope that they will make reading and rereading rewarding and sustaining. The purpose remains ever the same: to focus the mind and heart upon God as the Eternal Source and Goal of Life. To find Him as Companion and Presence is to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly” with Him.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace.” These words, taken from the prayer of St. Francis, speak to one of the most insistent conditions of the human spirit. It is not easy to be an instrument of peace because we understand so little about the anatomy of hostility and its particular kind of etiquette. Again and again we use our words to protect ourselves, to put others in their place,” to humiliate and to wound; sometimes, quite unconsciously. Have you ever been caught in the backwash of your words which hit their mark, resulting in an injury which was not part of your intent? All of this because you were too preoccupied with your own interests, your own concerns to take into account the other person? At such a moment your good word may easily become an instrument of violence. 

Ask yourself, Have I ever indulged in gossip which gave me an opportunity to say something uncharitable about someone else? Of course, if I had not heard the gossip and passed it on, then there would have been no chance for me to express my quiet hostility and, at the same time, be relieved of the responsibility for it. When I participate in the shared rumors and the gossip around me by passing them on or by refraining from stopping them with what I know to be the facts and the truth, I let my attitude and my influence become instruments of violence in my hands.” 

I offer my prayer to God: 

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace.” Teach me how to order my days that with sure touch I may say the right word at the right time and in the right way — lest I betray the spirit of peace. Let me not be deceived by my own insecurity and weakness which would make me hurt another as I try desperately to help myself. Keep watch with me, O my Father, over the days of my life, that with abiding enthusiasm I may be in such possession of myself that each day I may offer to Thee the full, unhampered use of me in all my parts as an instrument of Thy Peace.” Amen.

The Inward Journey: Meditations on the Spiritual Quest by Howard Thurman (Harper Row, 1961), p.104.

Text First Published December 1960